"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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Taking pen in hand … or actually, the computer keyboard … to while away a few minutes of leisure between wrapping up today’s work. (Yes, I am a small business owner and independent author; weekends and holidays are normal working days for me, although those hours and days are of my own choice, which makes up for quite a lot. And also, the commute is short.)
I was working away on graphic adornments for the next book in the Luna City Chronicles, and an editing job which I had thought to finish by mid-month, but these things happen. Anyway, I was diverted upon coming out to start cooking supper, to note that Blondie is also working away on her own stuff for upcoming events; for aural wallpaper, she had an old TV show on streaming video as she works. She has been going through various old shows in recent weeks. Last week it was the original Thundercats, the week before that it was McGyver. But this week it’s The X-Files … a show which she finds nostalgically amusing, but which I began to find so repellant that I stopped watching after a certain point. Was it the episode with the murderously incestuous hillbilly clan with the armless, legless mother, or the one where an oh-so-secret US Army unit machine-gunned to death a whole group of human-alien hybrid offspring? Memory does not serve up an exact date at this point, but that was where I decided that The X-Files just was not my cuppa any longer. Not for dealing out spine-chilling bits of horror in weekly episodes – the creepy guy who could slither through AC ducts, the primitive humans living in the wilds of New Jersey, the life insurance salesman who could foresee the death of his potential clients … for sheer story-telling expertise and creepy thrills, right up there with The Twilight Zone, or Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Likely, The X-Files still is, among certain aficionados. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been reading The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. The author remarks that, in the 19th century, the reading material in many American homes included Milton’s Paradise Lost. We already knew that Shakespeare and the Bible were common reading in those days.
The author notes (and this is unarguable, I think) that a society is largely characterized by the stories and myths that it shares.
So my question for discussion is this…and I’m almost afraid to ask it…in American in 2016, what are our primary shared stories and myths?
Tillman on Lamya H: “Your complaint is that your psychology professor was too—fat? I am so sorry. I can see that that would ruin your freshman experience. You were expecting? Luke Skywalker during his youth? Princess Leia Organa during her Jabba the Hutt years?”
From: Seth Barrett Tillman, Return of the Letter to a Young Social Justice Warrior—responding to Lamya H.’s: A personal history of Islamophobia in America, Vox (January 15, 2016), http://ssrn.com/abstract=2719141.
It’s been said about Godzilla that it was Japan’s way of dealing with the B-29’s of the American Army Air Corp of WWII. A…monster…emerges from the ocean to the East, wreaking havoc and destruction on the cities and people of Japan. Nothing they could do seemed capable of stopping or even slowing the incredible assault. All was laid to waste before it. The movie was a means of dealing with the horrible memories of the bombings on another level, a symbolic level, easier to face that way. Dealing with it without dealing with it. A coping mechanism for the culture.
Cloverfield may be the American equivalent. An apocalyptic horror film, it incorporates themes from Godzilla, Alien and the 1953 version of War of the Worlds. It takes place in Manhattan and the movie begins in retrospect as video footage from a recovered camera, now in the archives of the DoD. The everyday friendships, lives and loves of a few young professionals unfolds into a nightmare of fear and panic as an enormous creature inflicts death and destruction on the city and everyone around them. Virtually the entire film is done in hand-held camera style as they sporadically document the chaos unfolding around them. It’s an incredibly effective technique and gives a feeling of reality to the film it otherwise wouldn’t have. There’s no doubt in my mind this is the filmmaker’s way of coping with 9/11.
Here’s the first clip in a series of nine you can watch at Movieclips. The friends have just left a going away party and evacuated to the roof after what felt like an earthquake and power outage.
The first story is Robert Heinlein’s The Year of the Jackpot. A consulting statistician with the unlikely name of Potiphar Breen observes that many strange social trends are on a strong upswing. One such trend: young women removing all their clothes in public. Potiphar sees one such disrobing in process, shoos away the police, covers the girl with his raincoat, then takes her home and asks her why she did it. She doesn’t know.
Potiphar informs her that nine other girls have done the same thing, in Los Angeles alone, on that very day…and goes on to tell her that this is a small part of the overall pattern of increasing craziness that he is observing. A man has sued an entire state legislature for alienation of his wife’s affections–and the judge is letting the suit be tried. In another state, a bill has been introduced to repeal the laws of atomic energy–not the relevant statutes, but the natural laws concerning nuclear physics. Potiphar shows the girl (her name is Meade) the graphs on which he has plotted the outbreak of bizarre things over time, and notes that many different indicators, all with different cycles, are all converging in this very year. Still, Meade wants to look at her disrobing episode on an individual basis: “I want to know why I did what I did!”
“I think we’re lemmings, Meade,” Potiphar says. “Ask a lemming why he does it. If you could get him to slow up his rush to death, even money says he would rationalize his answer as well as any college graduate. But he does it because he has to–and so do we.” When Meade tries to defend free will–“I know I have it–I can feel it”, Potiphar continues with another analogy: “I imagine every little neutron in an atom bomb feels the same way. He can go spung! or he can sit still, just as he pleases. But statistical mechanics works out anyhow. And the bomb goes off.”
As Meade and Potiphar become romantically involved, Potiphar’s indices of bizarre behavior and events continue to climb. Transvestism by draft-dodgers has resulted in a mass arrest in Chicago and a gigantic mass trial–but the (male) prosecutor shows up in a pinafore. At the All Souls Community Church of Springfield, the pastor has reinstituted ceremonial nudity. Two weeks later, a hundred and nine other churches have announced the same policy. California is suffering a major water crisis, but people continue watering their lawns as usual. Hardly anyone is interested in the upcoming Republican and Democratic conventions; all the excitement is about the revived Know-Nothing party.
Foreign affairs, too, are disintegrating into chaos…topped off by a nuclear exchange. Meade and Potiphar manage to survive, and Potiphar’s cycle charts seem to indicate that things will soon get better…(read the story to see how it comes out.)
The fictional events of Heinlein’s Year of the Jackpot (set in 1952–it was written in 1947) don’t seem any more bizarre than the kind of headline stories that we are seeing every day in real-life:
This year is the 50th anniversary of the theatrical release of The Sound of Music. This was one of last things to come out of the Old Hollywood studio system which was broken apart first by anti-trust laws and later by the advent of TV. The tattered remains of Hollywood were then occupied by the communists and nihilists of the late 1960’s who proceeded to destroy whatever artistic foundations remained. Hollywood is completely incapable of producing a movie of this artistic quality and beauty today. Everyone, I think, feels the loss.
The Sound of Music became the highest grossing film of its time, bringing in $286,214,076 worldwide ($2.366 billion in 2014 dollars), finally displacing Gone With the Wind. The film was adapted from a Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical that opened in 1959 and starred Mary Martin. I’ve listened to the recordings of Mary, and I have to say Julie Andrews is much, much better. That’s probably because it was near the end of Mary’s career, which began in 1939, and Julie Andrews, age 30, was at the peak of her ability. She did a spectacular job in this film and I still get it out once in awhile to revel in its music and beauty.
It was directed by Robert Wise: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), West Side Story (1961), The Sand Pebbles (1966) The Andromeda Strain (1971), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). A young Robert Wise edited Citizen Kane.
The critical reception, from Wikipedia…I had to laugh at the NYT getting it completely wrong, even back then:
The film had its opening premiere on March 2, 1965 at the Rivoli Theater in New York City. Initial reviews were mixed. Bosley Crowther, in The New York Times, criticized the film’s “romantic nonsense and sentiment”, the children’s “artificial roles”, and Robert Wise’s “cosy-cum-corny” direction. Judith Crist, in a biting review in the New York Herald Tribune, dismissed the movie as “icky sticky” and designed for “the five to seven set and their mommies”. Wise later recalled, “The East Coast intellectual papers and magazines destroyed us, but the local papers and the trades gave us great reviews. “Indeed, reviewers such as Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times described the film as “three hours of visual and vocal brilliance”, and Daily Variety called it “a warmly-pulsating, captivating drama set to the most imaginative use of the lilting R-H tunes, magnificently mounted and with a brilliant cast”.
The movie is a celebration of love, of family, of the beauty of the world on a summer day, and the importance of family and friendship in the worst of times. That “The East Coast intellectuals” would completely miss that, well, it doesn’t surprise me in the least.
Haldane was an eminent British scientist (population genetics) and a Marxist. C S Lewis was…well, you probably already know who C S Lewis was.
Haldane’s critique was directed at the series of novels by Lewis known as the Ransom Trilogy, and particularly the last book of the series, That Hideous Strength . Lewis responded in a letter which remained unpublished for many of years. All this may sound ancient and esoteric, but I believe the Lewis/Haldane controversy is very relevant to our current political and philosophical landscape.
To briefly summarize That Hideous Strength: Mark, a young sociologist, is hired by a government agency called NICE–the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation–having as its stated mission the application of science to social problems. (Unbelievably, today the real-life British agency which establishes rationing policies for healthcare is also called NICE.) In the novel, NICE turns out to be a conspiracy devoted to very diabolical purposes, as Mark gradually discovers. It also turns out that the main reason NICE wanted to hire Mark is to get control of his wife, Jane (maiden name: Tudor) who has clairvoyant powers. The NICE officials want to use Jane’s abilities to get in touch with the magician Merlin and to effect a junction between modern scientific power and the ancient powers of magic, thereby bringing about the enslavement of mankind and worse. Jane, though, becomes involved with a group which represents the polar opposite of NICE, led by a philology professor named Ransom, who is clearly intended as a Christ-figure. The conflict between NICE and the Ransom group will determine the future of humanity.
A brilliantly written and thought-provoking book, which I highly recommend, even if, like me, you’re not generally a fan of fantasy novels.
With context established, here are some of the highlights of the Lewis/Haldane controversy:
1) Money and Power.
In his article, Haldane attacks Lewis for the latter’s refusal to absolutely condemn usury, and celebrates the fact that “Mammon has been cleared off a sixth of our planet’s surface”…clearly referring to the Soviet Union. Here’s part of Lewis’s response:
The difference between us is that the Professor sees the ‘World’ purely in terms of those threats and those allurements which depend onmoney. I do not. The most ‘worldly’ society I have ever lived in isthat of schoolboys: most worldly in the cruelty and arrogance ofthe strong, the toadyism and mutual treachery of the weak, andthe unqualified snobbery of both. Nothing was so base that mostmembers of the school proletariat would not do it, or suffer it, towin the favour of the school aristocracy: hardly any injustice toobad for the aristocracy to practise. But the class system did not inthe least depend on the amount of pocket money. Who needs tocare about money if most of the things he wants will be offered bycringing servility and the remainder can be taken by force? Thislesson has remained with me all my life. That is one of the reasonswhy I cannot share Professor Haldanes exaltation at the banishmentof Mammon from ‘a sixth of our planet’s surface’. I havealready lived in a world from which Mammon was banished: itwas the most wicked and miserable I have yet known. IfMammon were the only devil, it would be another matter. Butwhere Mammon vacates the throne, how if Moloch takes his place? As Aristotle said, ‘Men do not become tyrants in order tokeep warm’. All men, of course, desire pleasure and safety. But allmen also desire power and all men desire the mere sense of being ‘inthe know’ or the ‘inner ring’, of not being ‘outsiders’: a passioninsufficiently studied and the chief theme of my story. When thestate of society is such that money is the passport to all theseprizes, then of course money will be the prime temptation. Butwhen the passport changes, the desires will remain.
Posted by Helen on 31st October 2015 (All posts by Helen)
I say quite unashamedly that I am a detective story fan and something of a geek as well. I like British and American detective stories of every age (well, obviously not all) and get extremely angry when I see ridiculous comments made by people who have clearly not read much in the genre. No, not all British novels are cosy and not all American ones are tough; and no, Christie did not write silly mystery stories about country houses, which figure very rarely in her works; and yes, there were a good many excellent male detective story writers in the Golden Age on both sides of the Atlantic as well as a number of women thriller writers.
Luckily for me, there are other fans and geeks on Facebook and we have great discussions. Good thing like blogs, collections of essays and conferences grow out of those discussions or around them. Recently it was suggested by Curtis J. Evans that we should have a Tuesday Night Club to imitate the first Miss Marple stories. Several of us posted five Tuesday Night (or, in my case, sometimes Wednesday morning or afternoon) blogs about Christie. The link to Curt’s blog will lead you to all the other bloggers who took part in this enterprise but I thought that just for fun I shall post the links to my blogs here.And you must admit that is a very different them from my usual ones as well as a much happier one.
My first posting, on September 29, was about Miss Marple’s somewhat mysterious nephew, Raymond West and I think I really succeeded in unravelling certain puzzling aspects of his life and relationship with his aunt.
Then, on October 6, I wrote about Christie’s excellent understanding of social changes in Britain during and after the Second World War as well as her attitude to servants, very different from the way it is characterized by people who have heard of her novels but not read all that many of them.
Then I took one Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who appear in four novels and a collection of short stories. In my opinion, two of the novels are quite good, one passable and the last one is a complete mess. The collection of short stories, Partners in Crime, remains one of my favourites for reasons of entertainment rather than superior detection. On October 14 I wrote about the Beresfords in general and on October 21 I dealt with the Beresfords’ reading matter, which reflected Christie’s own to some extent and revealed some interesting facts.
My last posting as part of the Tuesday Night Club on October 27 was about archaeologists in Christie’s work. She knew a great deal about them, having married one and having accompanied him to a number of digs in Iraq and Syria where she took part in the work of uncovering the past. I have to admit to an egregious error: I omitted Signor Richetti (Death on the Nile) from my list of fake archaeologists.
It has been suggested that the Tuesday Night Club carries on with blogs about Ellery Queen, a seminal figure in crime writing, particularly in the US. I have read a number of the novels and short stories but have never been able to work out much enthusiasm for them, considering the atmosphere too hysterical, the character of Ellery too annoying and that of his father Richard, a New York police inspector, too stupid. I may sit the whole month out. Certainly, I have no time to do a posting this coming Tuesday but when I have read what my colleagues have written I may well think of something to say. In the meantime, have fun with Agatha Christie whose 125th birthday we are celebrating this year.
The current orthodoxy on Columbus is that he, and his impact, were unmitigated evil. This is, to say the least, an over-correction from earlier mythologizing.
Columbus certainly treated the people of Hispaniola who fell under his authority abusivley and cruelly. In that regard, he was typical of his day and age.
What was atypical about Columbus was his ingenious insight about the Atlantic wind patterns, and his superhuman drive to cross the Ocean Sea and arrive, as he incorrectly believed, in the Far East. It is of course false that people in his day did not know that the planet was spherical. Columbus did not have to prove that. Columbus was mistaken about the size of the sphere, and he imagined China to be a lot close than it was.
So, leafing – metaphorically speaking – through the video delights on offer through the Acorn video catalogue in search of something amusing to while away the evening after a day’s labor on various book projects, the most pressing of which is not my own, but a paid client – we came upon a two-part version from about ten years ago of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy. I suggested that we watch it, since I had a bout of Waugh fever about the time that I was in college upper division, in hot pursuit of that relatively useless degree in English. (But I enjoyed the pursuit very much on its own merits, not being one of those one-percenters with delusions of the diploma leading me author-matically into an lavishly paid gig anywhere in the academic or in the publishing establishment.)
Anyway, I had read a good few of Waugh’s books early on; liked Scoop – as vicious an evisceration of Big Media as it was in the 1930s as was ever set to page – and the first book of the Sword of Honor Trilogy, as a similarly bitterly cynical romp through the first years of WWII. The training year, the ‘Phony War’ year … when nothing much (aside from Nazi Germany overrunning Poland, the Low Countries, Norway and Denmark, and France) was happening. And then it all turned deadly serious, with which Waugh just didn’t seem able to cope. The seriousness of it all, I mean. Literary and serious observers, looking through their lorgnettes at current events sometimes have this difficulty, I know. Poor P. G. Woodhouse also had the same trouble, regarding WWII, even as it caught him up in its ghastly coils. I surmise that dear old P. G. dealt with it by moving to America and never dealing with it at all, within the frame of his books; probably a wise literary decision, since he had the formula down pat, so to speak. Read the rest of this entry »
Iwas delighted to receive Marjorie Garber‘s Shakespeare After Allin the mail this morning. Garber’s book is a thousand page review of everything Shakespeare ever wrote, with each play claiming its own chapter length analysis. The introduction of Shakespeare After All is a fascinating tour of Shakespeare’s reputation though the centuries, describing how Shakespeare’s poetry has been perceived in the days since his plays were originally performed, which of his works were most popular during various eras, and how their presentation on the page and performance on the stage has change with time. In Shakespeare’s lifetime Pericleswas the most popular of his works; in the 19th century, lines from King Johnand Henry VIII, much neglected today,were the most likely to appear in the quote books and progymnasmata collections so popular then. Emerson bitterly lamented that Harvard, his alma mater, had no lecturer in Shakespearean rhetoric. His lament went unheeded; neither Harvard nor Yale included Shakespeare among their course readings until the 1870s. Yet for 19th century men like Emerson this really was no great loss. The American people of this era were so engrossed with Shakespeare that no one living in America could escape him: evidence of his place in America’s “pop culture in the nineteenth century [can be found in everything from] traveling troupes, Shakespeare speeches as part of vaudeville bills, huge crowds and riots at productions, [to accounts of] audiences shouting lines back at the actors.“ I am reminded of Tocqueville‘s observation that every settler’s hut in America, no matter how squalid or remote, had a copy of a newspaper, a Bible, and some work of Shakespeare inside it.  Tocqueville used this as evidence to buttress his claim that the Americans were more educated and cultivated than any other people on the Earth. He may have been on to something. One cannot read the diaries, letters, and editorials of 19th century America without wondering at their eloquence and erudition. What caused this, if not the many hours they spent as children on their mother’s knee learning to read from the Jacobean English of the King James Bible and the plays of Shakespeare?
Garber also discusses the role Shakespearean rhetoric has played in American political culture since the founding. Quotes from Shakespeare have always been ubiquitous in American politics. They were used in the earliest days of the American republic. They are used with equal frequency today. However, the manner in whichthey are used has shifted with time. This diversity may seem a small thing, but the different ways Shakespeare’s rhymes have been used through time reveal a great deal about broader and more important shifts in American political culture. This will become apparent as I describe these changes. A good place to start is with the Webster-Hayne debate of 1830. Of all American oratory, only the Lincoln-Douglass debates can claim greater fame than the debate Daniel Webster and Robert Hayne held on the antebellum Senate floor. At that time there was a resolution before the Senate calling for all new federal land surveys to be postponed until all of the existing land already surveyed had been sold. This struck the ire of the westerners, who pushed for federal land to be given to new settlers without charge or delay. In those days American politics was a sectional affair. Political outcomes often turned on forging an alliance between one region of the country and another to push through policies that might benefit both at the cost of the rest. Hayne, a South Carolina man, saw in this debate a chance to place a wedge between New England, whose delegates opposed free homesteading, and the frontier states of the West. A “coalition” (as he would call it) between Westerners and New Englanders had delivered the presidency to John Quincy Adams just a few years before. That coalition was formed in unusual circumstances, and thus was condemned in Southern circles as a “corrupt bargain” that threatened American liberties. Adam’s side denied these charges with greatest vigor, but all of the vigor in the world could not slow the democratic tide sweeping over American society. Andrew Jackson would ride this tide into the white house. Jackson, champion of mass democracy, reconfigured the landscape of American politics. His new coalition–which united men of the West, South, and the urban centers of the North–would dominate American politics for the next two decades. But Hayne and Webster had their debate only two years into this new era. It wasn’t clear that the revolution had been won; no one knew if Jackson’s coalition would prove transient or permanent. Any chance to drive New England further into the backwaters of national politics must be seized, and Hayne was eager to do the seizing.
Posted by Lexington Green on 25th September 2015 (All posts by Lexington Green)
I have in recent years been reading the work of Joseph Conrad. I spent many years believing the best writers in English were George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, with Leo Tolstoy in translation as a titan and peer. Then all of a sudden, in the last five or years I discovered that Ernest Hemingway is a near peer, and that V.S. Naipaul is every bit the equal of these great ones. And through Naipaul, I met Conrad, who also merits admission to this august company.
Naipaul and Conrad both have as a main theme the encounter, the clash, between European civilization and the peoples and ways of Asia and Africa. Conrad depicts the European imperial and commercial expansion near its peak, and while it is still confident and expanding. Naipaul depicts the world after the European domination has receded, like an outgoing tsunami, which has left a transformed landscape behind.
(Explanation here.) We spent Thursday afternoon and all of Friday in the town of Giddings, Texas, for the 10th Annual Word Wrangler Festival. The organizers gathered together more than thirty writers, for a community bash at the library/community center, followed by bringing in busloads of school children to the library to meet the lot of us, talk about our books, and to encourage them to explore books … it was a lovely way to spend the day. And we were faintly boggled on the drive up to discover that yes, there is actually some deep pinewood forest in this part of Texas. (The woods on the opposite side of the highway were relatively un-scorched by the fire.
And we brought home take-out BBQ brisket, pork and chicken from the Giddings City Meat Market, which is supposed to be one of the top best BBQ places in the state,
Posted by Ginny on 12th September 2015 (All posts by Ginny)
A friend takes joy in the heroic – finding it near home (her father-in-law’s willingness to volunteer his medical service to cities beset by polio in the fifties and in a Viet Nam hospital twenty years later) and farther. She cheers me. Her take is stoic, but toughness nurtures unsentimental appreciation – foregrounding the half-full glass amidst chaos. For instance, last week she described admiration for the curator and archivist Khaled al-Asaad http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/18/isis-beheads-archaeologist-syria, who, at 82, withstood a month’s interrogation by ISIS, ending in his beheading.
The 2015 Hugo awards were given out over last weekend, at Worldcon in Spokane, and the meltdown is ongoing. The commentary on this at the follow-up post at According to Hoyt has gone over 1,000 comments, a record that I haven’t seen on a blog since the heyday of a certain blog that is not mentioned any more (but whose name referenced small verdantly-colored prolate spheroids). I’ll admit, right from the get-go, that as a writer and blogger I have no real dog in this fight over the Hugo awards – not even the smallest of timid and depressed of puppies, but I did feel enough of an interest in it to post about it a couple of times. I merely observe with sympathy as an interested internet ‘friend’ and fan of some of those who are deeply involved, rather than a directly-involved author. I love Connie Willis’s books and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, used to love Marion Zimmer Bradley – alas, my collection of her books is now boxed and moldering away in the garage . My science fiction and ‘con’ activity extends only as far as having an entire run of Blakes’ 7 taped on VHS from when it was broadcast on KUED in Salt Lake City in the 1990s, having gone to the Salt Lake City ‘con several times, and once to the Albuquerque ‘con’ when it happened to be on a weekend at the time I was TDY to Kirtland AFB for a senior NCO leadership class. I had a marvelous time, on all those occasions … but my personal writing concentration is on historical fiction, and to a lesser extent, socio/political blogging.
This is a delightful interview of Krauthammer by William Kristol from earlier this year. It’s quite long but the whole thing is worth watching.
In this conversation, Charles Krauthammer reflects on his upbringing in a politically-tumultuous Quebec, his work in medicine, and his views on Zionism, Judaism, and religion. Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol also discuss some of the key ideas, questions, and themes of his writing—including the “Reagan Doctrine,” an idea he coined, the role of America in a new post-Cold War world, and whether the America of 2015 is in decline.
(A timeline of the interview appears on the interview’s YouTube page.)
To sum up, if you decide to publish an article, and your article gives rise to a response or responses taking issue with your ideas, that is cause for genuine pride and congratulations, as most ideas are never even noticed. But, if instead, your reaction to such responses is to claim that you have been injured (i.e., your feelings are hurt because you have become aware that others see the world differently from you), then it seems to me that your purported injury is not meaningful or cognizable. If mere hurt feelings were a recognized injury, then no one could possibly disagree with anyone else, and all intellectual inquiry, in law and in other fields, would be at an end. You do see that, right? At a time when free speech is in decline all over the world, when free speech is threatened by government monitoring, by ever expanding legal liability, and by criminals who respond with violence to speech with which they disagree, are you sure you are on the right side of this issue? Exactly whose side are you on?
When Goethe was 15, he was already recognized by friends as an exceptional writer. One of these friends, “Pylades,” told Goethe that he had recently read some of his verses aloud to “some pleasant companions…and not one of them will believe that you have made them.” Goethe said he didn’t much care whether they believed it or not, but just then one of the “pleasant companions” showed up, and Pylades proposed a way of convincing the fellow of Goethe’s abilities: “Give him any theme, and he will make you a poem on the spot.”
The disbeliever asked Goethe if he “would venture to compose a pretty love-letter in rhyme, which a modest young woman might be supposed to write to a young man, to declare her inclination.”
“Nothing easier,” said Goethe, and after thinking for a few minutes commenced to write. The now-former disbeliever was very impressed, said he hoped to see more of Goethe soon, and proposed an expedition into the country. For this expedition, they were joined by several more young men “of the same rank”…intelligent and knowledgeable, but from the lower and middle classes, earning their livings by copying for lawyers, tutoring children, etc.
These guys told Goethe that they had copied his letter in a mock-feminine hand and had sent it to “a conceited young man, who was now firmly persuaded that a lady to whom he had paid distant court was excessively enamored of him, and sought an opportunity for closer acquaintance.” The young man had completely fallen for it, and desired to respond to the woman also in verse…but did not believe he had the talent to write such verse.
Believing it was all in good fun, Goethe agreed to also write the reply. Soon, he met the would-be lover, who was “certainly not very bright” and who was thrilled with “his” response to his inamorata.
While Goethe was with this group, “a girl of uncommon…of incredible beauty” came into the room. Her name was Gretchen, and she was a relative of one of the tricksters present. Goethe was quite smitten:
“The form of that girl followed me from that moment on every path; it was the first durable impression which a female being had made upon me: and as I could find no pretext to see her at home, and would not seek one, I went to church for love of her, and had soon traced out where she sat. Thus, during the long Protestant service, I gazed my fill at her.”
The tricksters soon prevailed upon Goethe to write another letter, this one from the lady to the sucker “I immediately set to work, and thought of every thing that would be in the highest degree pleasing if Gretchen were writing it to me.” When finished, he read it to one of the tricksters, with Gretchen sitting by the window and spinning. After the trickster left, Gretchen told Goethe that he should not be participating in this affair: “The thing seems an innocent jest: it is a jest, but it is not innocent”…and asked why “you, a young man man of good family, rich, independent” would allow himself to be used as a tool in this deception, when she herself, although a dependent relative, had refused to become involved by copying the letters.
Gretchen then read the epistle, commenting that “That is very pretty, but it is a pity that it is not destined for a real purpose.” Goethe said how exciting it would be for a young man to really receive such a letter from a girl he cared about, and…greatly daring…asked: “if any one who knew, prized, honored, and adored you, laid such a paper before you, what would you do”…and pushed the paper, which she had previously pushed back toward him, nearer to Gretchen.
“She smiled, reflected for a moment, took the pen, and subscribed her name.”
So everyone thought that the last of the fallout from the Sad/Rabid Puppies and the expanded field of nominees for the Hugo award and finished falling and now it was safe to come out and gambol happily in the fields of science fiction and fantasy? The much revered semi-retired founder of Tor, Tom Doherty made a handsome and diplomatic statement, stressing the fact that in no way were the opinion of MS Irene Gallo, the creative director at Tor, as posted on her personal Facebook page early in May of this year, to be mistaken for being the opinion of the publishing firm itself. But the stuff is still falling, and it’s not rain.
MS Gallo had opined on said personal Facebook page (but a page which appeared mainly to be for publicizing Tor projects) , when someone asked about what the Sad Puppies were all about: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.” When massive attention to this unequivocal statement was paid by outraged science fiction and fantasy writers and readers who were in sympathy with the Sad Puppies, many such felt themselves to be slandered and insulted. MS Gallo did post one of those mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apologetic apologies farther down in the original comment thread which together with Tom Doherty’s statement appeared at first to tamp down some of the fury. Read the rest of this entry »
With some apologies because this is not a matter which particularly touches me, or the books that I write, I am moved to write about this imbroglio one more time, because it seems that it didn’t end with the official Hugo awards slate of nominees being finalized – with many good and well-written published works by a diverse range of authors being put forward. The Hugo nominations appear for quite a good few years to have been dominated by one particular publisher, Tor. And it seems that the higher levels of management at Tor did not take a diminishment of their power over the Hugo nominees at all gracefully. (This post at my book blog explains the ruckus with links, for those who may be in the dark.)
A Ms. Irene Gallo, who apparently billed as a creative director at Tor, replied thusly on her Facebook page, when asked about what the Sad Puppies were: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”
I reread this book a couple of years ago (having originally read it in high school), and had intended to write a review of it one of these days. The review recently posted at Powerline, though, is so good that I think I’ll just link it and save myself the trouble:
Peter Thiel is interviewed by Tyler Cowen, in a conversation that ranges from why there is stagnation “in the world of atoms and not of bits” to the dangers of conformity to what he looks for when choosing people to why company names matter.
Garry Trudeau (he wrote a cartoon called Doonesbury–is it really still being published?) gives his thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo murders perpetrated in the name of Islam–by accusing the cartoonists of “hate speech” and denouncing “free speech absolutism.”
(Inasmuch as the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor is stirring in the land, I thought it would be appropriate to rerun this post from last year)
It seems that Jesus Christ returned to earth, sometime during the sixteenth century…at least, this is the premise of the parable that Ivan relates to Alyosha, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. The city to which Christ came was Seville, where on the previous day before almost a hundred heretics had been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, “in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville. He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him.”
But the Grand Inquisitor observes the way in which people are being irresistibly drawn to Jesus, and causes him to be arrested and taken away.
The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on. The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy Inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.
“‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ but receiving no answer, he adds at once. ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us?
The Grand Inquisitor explains to Jesus why his presence is not desired and why he must burn. Excerpts below:
So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they’ve slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, “Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!” And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone- the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only one who can appease their conscience can take over their freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. But if someone else gains possession of his conscience- Oh! then he will cast away Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of taking men’s freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all- Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever.
… hear me roar … and then turn around and whine because some cis-male said something, or looked something, and I feel so … so threatened! Look, girls…ladies … possessor of a vagina or whatever you want to be addressed as this week in vernacular fashion; can you just please pick one attitude and stick too it? Frankly, this inconsistency is embarrassing the hell out of me (sixty-ish, small-f feminist in the long-ago dark days when there was genuine no-s*it gender inequality in education, job opportunities and pay-scales to complain about and campaign for redress thereof). This is also annoying to my daughter, the thirtyish Marine Corps veteran of two hitches. The Daughter Unit is actually is very close to losing patience entirely with those of the sisterhood who are doing this “Woman Powerful!-Woman Poor Downtrodden Perpetual Victim!” bait and switch game. So am I, actually, but I have thirty years experience in biting my tongue when it comes to the antics of the Establishment Professional Capital-F Feminist crowd.
Here I will link several posts that I see as related. At the moment I don’t have time to tie them together in a coherent way, so will just put them out there in a somewhat disconnected fashion in the hope of sparking some good discussion.
I would like to see a study of decision-making based on how much fiction one consumes. My hypothesis is that consumers of fiction will draw their “experience” in part from fiction and it will warp their understanding of what is practical or possible in the real world…I think exposure to fiction makes you less grounded in the real world (subconsciously) and more likely to make decisions the way the captain of the Enterprise would have done it, for example.
This is a quite different view of the role and value of fiction from the one expressed in an article I summarized in my post Fiction and Empathy:
In one experiment, researcher Keith Oatley and colleagues assessed the reading habits of 94 adults, separating fiction from nonfiction. They also tested the subjects on measures of emotion perception (being able to discern a person’s emotional state from a photo of only the eyes) and social cognition (being able to draw conclusions about the relationships among people based on video clips.) This study showed a “strong” interconnection between fiction reading and social skills, especially between fiction reading and the emotion-perception factor. This correlation, of course, does not by itself demonstrate the direction of causality. Another study involved assigning 303 adults to read either a short story or an essay from the New Yorker and following up with tests of analytical and social reasoning. Those who read the story tended to do better on the social reasoning test than those who read the nonfiction essay.
Dr Oatley has referred to fiction as “the mind’s flight simulator.”
Unlike historical accounts, through well-drawn characters it is possible to absorb the world through another perspective, an immensely valuable skill for investors looking for ideas (or trouble). A memory bank of fictional characters will also help when the market “hive mind” pushes prices in unexpected directions, answering the question “what kind of person buys here?” The primary lesson of fiction is learning “this is how people act”, when they’re scared, confident, happy, determined or demoralized. Not how I would act, or how I think they should act, but how the combination of different experiences and different patterns of cognition lead to aggregate outcomes. Empathy.
In her post the message and the story , SF writer Sarah Hoyt offers some thoughts on how novels can influence the worldviews of their readers:
But part of it is that I doubt the effectiveness of overt messages in stories. I don’t scruple to say I was raised by Heinlein, nor that I wasn’t the only one. The man might have had no biological kids, but he has sons and daughters all over the world, including me.
But then we have to look at how he raised me. Remember I came at Heinlein through (mostly) the later books because most of the Juveniles (Door Into Summer and Have Spacesuit Will Travel excepted) were either not translated to Portuguese or no longer available when I came along. And yet, what I took from his books was not the obvious messages: “Though art God” or the bedhopping or multiple marriages as the natural way to live. (Oh, for a while, but that was the spirit of the times, too, being the late seventies.) What I took from the books were not so much the messages as “the way to be.”
By creating characters that were tough, questioning, strong, and, most of all, useful, he made me want to be that way. I took as my model (being touched in the upper works) the broken caryatid, not just for characters but for what a human being should be, lifting whatever the burden without complaining.
Now, it takes a certain type of personality to teach at that level. I’ve seen it in some teachers, too, who, regardless of whether they teach you history or English, really give you a model you aspire to being. The left, being daft, thinks this has to do with the character/teacher looking like you. They think only black people can model to black children. This is part of their insanity with “there must be so many characters of tan per book.” And also with promoting incompetent teachers to positions of power, because they have a certain ancestry or skin color.
But it doesn’t work that way. It’s more subtle. It’s more about being who you are in such a strong and convincing way and making the characteristics you have or approve of so admirable that people want to follow them. Which is what Heinlein did. Read the rest of this entry »